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Hillicon Valley: Facebook to remove mentions of potential whistleblower’s name | House Dems demand FCC action over leak of location data | Dem presses regulators to secure health care data

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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e) and Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills).


FACEBOOK BLOWS THE WHISTLE: Facebook on Friday said it will remove “any and all” mention of the potential whistleblower’s name, claiming any identifying posts and ads violate the platform’s policies against outing vulnerable activists.

Facebook’s decision comes days after several news outlets began printing the name of a man they believe to be the whistleblower who raised concerns about President Trump’s contacts with Ukraine, sparking a complicated reckoning among publishers over whether to share the name of someone whose identity is meant to be protected under federal law. 

{mosads}On Thursday, Facebook took down a spate of ads shared by conservative groups that included the alleged whistleblower’s name.

Nearly all mainstream news outlets have declined to print the name thus far, even as some GOP lawmakers engage in a public effort to publicize the person’s identity.

Facebook’s position: “Any mention of the potential whistleblower’s name violates our coordinating harm policy, which prohibits content ‘outing a witness, informant, or activist,'” a Facebook official told The Hill on Friday.

“We are removing any and all mentions of the potential whistleblower’s name and will revisit this decision should their name be widely published in the media or used by public figures in debate,” the official added.

The policy pertains to content posted directly to Facebook’s platform, the official confirmed, meaning the social media giant will remove posts from users that mention the name as well as articles with the name in the headline or first paragraph. 

Twitter stands differently: Donald Trump Jr., President Trump’s eldest son, tweeted a link to a Breitbart article that named the alleged whistleblower this week.

Twitter in a statement to The Hill said it will remove posts that include “personally identifiable information” on the alleged whistleblower, such as their cell phone number or address, but it will keep up tweets that mention the sensitive name.

Read more on the debate here.


DEMS RAISE THE HEAT ON FCC: The Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee strongly criticized the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Friday, accusing it of failing to enforce privacy laws and demanding action over a leak of consumer data.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the Democrats, including Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), referenced an investigation opened by the FCC after The New York Times reported last year that major wireless carriers were disclosing real-time customer location data to third-party data aggregators without the consent of customers.

The committee members wrote that the agency is failing to enforce the Communications Act, which includes customer privacy rules, by not taking action around this incident, and requested an update on the FCC’s investigation.

“Despite announcing that it began an investigation into the wireless carriers after being made aware of the allegations in 2018, the FCC has failed, to date, to take any action. And now time is running out since the statute of limitations gives the FCC one year to act,” the committee members wrote. 

The group gave the FCC until Nov. 29 to respond with an update on its investigation. 

A spokesperson for the FCC told The Hill that the agency was reviewing the letter but did not comment further. 

Read more here.


A CYBER HEALTH SCARE: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) on Friday criticized the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for not taking action after a September report revealed the exposure of medical images and sensitive health data of millions of Americans.

Warner wrote in a letter to Roger Severino, the director of HHS’ Office for Civil Rights, that “a long overdue focus on data privacy and information security has come into sharper focus” as the health care sector increasingly utilizes information technology, and criticized the agency for not taking action in response to one specific incident earlier this year. 

The Democrat pointed to a ProPublica report published in September that found that medical images and other health data of more than 5 million Americans were unprotected online, and could be viewed easily by anyone with a web browser or free software program.

Warner noted that the images were stored on unsecure picture and archiving communications servers, or PACS, and included more than 100 million medical images, over 22 million patient records and 400,000 social security numbers.

Warner, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote that he was “alarmed” that HHS had not taken action to secure the images and data in the wake of the ProPublica report, citing HHS’ “responsibility to protect the sensitive personal medical information of the American people.”

Read more here.


FIERY FIREFOX: Mozilla, creator of the Firefox web browser, on Friday called on Google and Facebook to stop “microtargeting” political advertisements.

“Political speech is critical to democratic discourse, but against the very real circumstances of organized disinformation and organic misinformation today, microtargeting keeps ideas from being debated in the open,” Ashley Boyd, Mozilla’s advocacy vice president, said in a statement.

“Online platforms can take the important step toward quelling the manipulation by limiting political ads to a scale where they facilitate a public discourse.”

Microtargeting, a method which uses consumer data and demographics to narrowly segment audiences, is used by political campaigns to specialize ads for different voting groups.

The practice’s critics include Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, who wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that microtargeting makes it “easy to single out susceptible groups and direct political misinformation to them with little accountability, because the public at large never sees the ad.”

Mozilla’s call follows reports that Facebook has considered restricting politicians’ access to microtargeting. 

Read more here. 


WE’RE ALL THE SAME: Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) on Friday introduced a bill to create “parity” among the government’s dozens of broadband programs. 

The Broadband Parity Act would set one standard for “high-speed internet” across more than 20 programs aimed at improving access to broadband in the U.S. Right now, each program adheres to its own definition of what constitutes speedy internet. 

“In 2019, quality broadband internet connections should be readily available to Nevadans across our state,” Rosen said in a statement. “This is especially true for those living in rural communities who depend on reliable internet connectivity to access services such as telehealth and to participate fully in our digital economy.”

“This bipartisan legislation will take concrete steps towards closing the digital divide for all Americans and I’ll continue to work on solutions that bring parity to our communities,” she said.

Capito said she hopes the bill will aid efforts to close the “digital divide,” or the disparity in internet access within urban and rural areas.

Read more here. 


Lighter click: Happy Friday to dog lovers everywhere 


An op-ed to chew on: NASA’s planned expedition to orbit Pluto won’t settle if it’s a planet 


Notable links from around the web:

U.S. officials release framework for notifying public of foreign interference in elections (CyberScoop)  

How Mark Zuckerberg became the most reviled man in tech (Vanity Fair)  

The Week in Tech: TikTok is in trouble (New York Times)  

Virginia pledges $1 billion for tech talent pipeline (Inside Higher Ed) 

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump Jr. Jacky Rosen Mark Warner Mark Zuckerberg Shelley Moore Capito
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